Tag Archives: 12yo

Hankey Bannister 12 Year Old Regency

I first came across this blended scotch at a beer lounge and restaurant called Easy Beer in Riga, Latvia. Although I had heard of Hankey Bannister scotch blends, I had never actually encountered one in my travels. And to my surprise, it was priced similarly to Bulleit bourbon as the lowest-priced whisky on hand for sampling. After this tasting, I subsequently went out and bought a 700 mL bottle at a nearby Spirits & Wine depot for 27 € (or just under $40 CAD).

In case you were wondering about the brand name, it is actually the combination of two proper surnames – Beaumont Hankey and Hugh Bannister – who came together to form the Hankey Bannister & Co. in 1757. While not as well known as some other blenders, their range of blended scotch whiskies have found favour with many over the years (e.g. Sir Winston Churchill is reported to have been a big fan).

Today, the brand is owned by Inver House, which also owns the malt distilleries Balblair, Pulteney, Speyburn, Balmenach and Knockdhu (AnCnoc) – whose malts, presumably, are used to create this 12 year old blend. Note that this 12 yo “Regency” bottling is different from their no-age-statement offering (also known as “Original”), which typically sells at around the floor price for blended scotch in jurisdictions that carry it (e.g., it is about half-priced in Latvia, at 14 € for a 1 L bottle – or $21 CAD). As an aside, Latvia has generally good prices on spirits – except for premium bottles, which have an even greater mark-up than here in Canada.

Packaging for Hankey Bannister 12 yo is pretty basic, and reminds me a lot of the current entry-level Johnnie Walker bottles (i.e., screw caps, and thin rectangular bottles and boxes to allow easy shelf stocking). Bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Here’s how Hankey Bannister compares to the competition in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Ballantine’s 17yo: 8.79 ± 0.34 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Great King St Artist’s Blend: 8.59 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Compass Box Great King St Glasgow Blend: 8.56 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.77 ± 0.42 on 22 reviews ($$)
Chivas Regal 18yo: 8.24 ± 0.53 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Chivas Royal Salute 21yo: 8.53 ± 0.62 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.70 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency: 8.57 ± 0.20 on 6 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister 21yo Partner’s Reserve: 8.56 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Hankey Bannister Heritage: 8.50 ± 0.10 on 4 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Black Label: 8.25 ± 0.48 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Blue Label: 8.53 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Johnnie Walker Green Label: 8.53 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker Platinum Label: 8.42 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.37 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Té Bheag: 8.47 ± 0.29 on 15 reviews ($$)

That’s a decent Meta-Critic score for what is basically still an entry-level price scotch blend.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Colour: Standard whisky colouring – pretty sure E150 spirit caramel has been added to this one.

Nose: I get classic honey and caramel on the nose, plus vanilla. Light berries, green grapes. Lemony citrus. Graham crackers. Creamy wheat and a grain sensation. Something spirity, almost mineralized (flint?). Furniture wax (lemon-scented Pledge, in fact). Faint touch of glue. Quite a decent nose for a blend.

Palate: Sweet honey and caramel dominate, with butterscotch and nougat. Very buttery – in both taste and texture. Lemon biscuits. Frosting. No real fruit, beyond typical apple/pear. Light spice. Some minor tongue tingle.  A bit light overall, consistent with low ABV.

Finish: Short. Caramel is the main note that remains. That spirity note from the nose returns – there is a definite minerality here. Has a club soda-like cleansing feel at the end.

This was a great find – one of the better blended Scotch whiskies that I’ve tried. I would put it on par with Johnnie Walker Blue Label (which is nearly 10 times as expensive), with which it shares a similar honeyed style. It rivals the quality of some comparably-aged Japanese blends out there (which are now sadly unavailable, or much more expensive). And it matches or exceeds most entry-level single malts in this age range (e.g., I find it more complex than the similarly honeyed – but more expensive – Singleton of Dufftown 12 year old). If you like this style of whisky, Hankey Bannister 12 yo Regency is pretty hard to beat for the price.

As an aside, my wife (who is not a big scotch drinker) really enjoyed this one – and encouraged me to bring back a bottle. I think it is very well suited to the casual whisky drinker who doesn’t like obvious smoke in their whisky. Among reviewers, the most positive is Ralfy, followed by Serge of Whisky Fun. It gets slightly below average scores from Jim Murray and Jan of Best Shot Whisky.

Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old

While Singleton is not exactly a house-hold name, that may be changing. Owned by the large multinational drinks conglomerate Diageo (of Johnnie Walker fame), the Singleton brand is their attempt to do for single malts what they have long done for blends – raise brand awareness centered on an extended family.

While Diageo may be a top player in the single malt world, this isn’t immediately obvious to most casual drinkers since they don’t own the common entry-level malts (like Glenlivet and Glenfiddich), or the really big recognizable names (like Macallan). Instead, Diageo dominates by sheer volume across a range of price points. Singeton is their attempt to double-down on the entry-level, with a series of very well priced offerings.

Focusing on the Speyside region of Scotland, Diageo is currently highlighting three of their distilleries through this shared Singleton brand – Dufftown, Glen Ord and Glendullan. Rather than finding their output poured into the Diageo blending empire (as was presumably the case previously), these distilleries are now going head-to-head through the common Singleton label with the ubiquitous Glenlivets and Glenfiddichs.

Refreshingly, the main Singleton expressions all carry age statements (12, 15 and 18 years of age), and are all meant to showcase the classic Speyside “gentle” character (i.e., no fancy finishes or unusual cask blending). They are also all very reasonably priced for their ages.

To expand the market, Diageo has also released a number of no age statement (NAS) expressions for each distillery, many intended to attract a younger audience for mixed drinks (these are are similarly budget priced along with the 12 yo version). There are also a number of NAS duty-free retail expressions for the more well-healed traveler. Here is where you are more likely to find the wine cask finishes and the like – many of these are more expensive than the standard age range expressions, but still reasonably priced for their respective styles.

Let’s see how the various Singletons compare in my Metacritic Database, relative to their main competitors (note that not all the new expressions have enough reviews to be included in the public database yet).

Singleton of Dufftown 12yo: 7.93 ± 0.43 on 9 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown 15yo: 8.33 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Singleton of Dufftown 18yo: 8.41 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Singleton of Dufftown Spey Cascade: 7.53 ± 0.53 on 3 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown Tailfire: 8.17 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown Unité: 8.13 ± 0.27 on 4 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Glen Ord 12yo: 8.31 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Glen Ord 15yo: 8.46 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Singleton of Glen Ord 18yo: 8.39 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Singleton of Glen Ord Signature: 7.92 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Singleton of Glendullan 12yo: 8.04 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$)

AnCnoc 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.29 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.59 ± 0.89 on 7 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan Three Wood: 8.26 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 12yo Doublewood: 8.41 ± 0.34 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 12yo Original: 8.59 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.10 ± 0.24 on 24 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak: 8.60 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery Edition: 8.70 ± 0.30 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Solera: 8.59 ± 0.25 on 24 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.59 ± 0.37 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 15yo French Oak: 8.38 ± 0.25 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Glenlivet 18yo: 8.61 ± 0.21 on 21 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve: 7.94 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glenmorangie 10yo: 8.48 ± 0.45 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie Lasanta: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or: 8.76 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban: 8.57 ± 0.48 on 21 reviews ($$$)

Those are a lot of numbers, but the general point is that the age-statement Singletons (broadly speaking) are getting similar or slightly lower reviewer scores compared to the more established brands. The budget-priced NAS Singleton offerings typically score lower than the base 12 yo age expression, consistent with the pattern for the more established brands.

I’ve started to see the entry-level age statement Singletons show up more often lately, in places where whisky is not a specialty. Case in point, I ran across this Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old in an Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge during my travels. Normally all these lounges carry is an entry-level Glenlivet malt (12 or Founder’s Reserve, depending on local availability), Johnnie Walker Black, and Crown Royal – so this was an unexpected opportunity to finally give Singleton a shot.  It is bottled at 40% ABV, like much of the competition.

And now for what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light apple juice, with a bit of honey and vanilla, plus some caramel. Not much fruit (dried fruit, what little there is). Some light hay and grass notes. A bit of acetone comes up at the end, unfortunately. Pretty standard stuff.

Palate: Honey sweetness starts off, followed by an extreme caramel gooey-ness (this is almost like the inside of a Caramilk bar). Golden raisins join the light pear and apple fruits. Some light cinnamon. Not much else here. Grass still present, and maybe a slight nuttiness. Absolutely no burn, seems very light (even for 40% ABV).  A bit of citrus emerges eventually.

Finish‎: Medium length. Caramel creamy. Some fruit lingers, with a hint of wood spice. Slightly artificial sweetener aftertaste, unfortunately. Very mild and unoffensive (also rather forgettable).

This is a very inoffensive dram – it just isn’t very interesting. The Singleton of Dufftown 12 year old is probably a good option for those looking for something a little sweeter than the other entry level malts. Personally, I’ll be sticking with JW Black or Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve in the Maple Leaf lounge.

The most positive review I’ve seen for this whisky comes Oliver of Dramming. Personally, I fall more in line with the guys at Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun.  The most scathing review I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray – he’s definitely not a fan. Overall, I think the price reflects the value here.

Masterson’s 12 Year Old Straight Wheat

I have previously reviewed Masterson’s 10 year old Straight Rye and Straight Barley editions, and am now closing the loop with their slightly older Straight Wheat whisky. Like the other Masterson’s, this is sourced solely from Canadian whisky (likely Alberta Distillers again). Please see those earlier reviews for a discussion of Masterson’s history and production.

As a straight whisky, this 12 Year Old Straight Wheat is aged entirely in new charred oak barrels. It is also a pure wheat whisky (i.e., 100% wheat). While I am generally a fan of “wheaters” (i.e., American bourbons with a relatively high proportion of wheat in the mashbill), I’ve never experienced a true 100% wheat whisky before.

Bottled at 50% ABV. Note that this is not a regular expression for Masterson’s, and it is hard to find now. My sample came from from the first release, and was provided as part of a swap with redditor blaw84.

Here are how the various Masterson’s whiskies compare in my Whisky Database, relative to other wheated whiskies.

Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.88 ± 0.41 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Barley 10yo: 8.58 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)

1792 Sweet Wheat Bourbon: 8.65 ± 0.21 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Bernheim Original Straight Wheat 7yo Small Batch: 8.46 ± 0.54 on 18 reviews ($$)
Larceny Small Batch Bourbon: 8.37 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark: 8.23 ± 0.43 on 22 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark 46: 8.76 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: 8.71 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon: 8.42 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$)
Old Fitzgerald BiB: 7.98 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.03 ± 0.21 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.68 ± 0.41 on 10 reviews ($$)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 15yo: 9.24 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Parker’s Heritage 4th 10yo Wheated Mash Bill Bourbon: 9.09 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Parker’s Heritage 8th 13yo Wheat Whiskey: 8.77 ± 0.54 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Rebel Yell Kentucky Bourbon: 7.60 ± 0.59 on 11 reviews ($)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.69 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.87 ± 0.25 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.43 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($)
William Larue Weller: 9.18 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)

Like the Straight Barley edition, this Straight Wheat gets a lower average score than the Straight Rye – but far more consistently from reviewers.  Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: One of the lightest whiskies I’ve seen, on part with younger Arran and AnCnoc malts.

Nose: Very grain forward, but in a pleasant way. Vanilla. Not very fruity, but with some light dried fruits, and a bit of orange peel. Woody and earthy, it is a bit soapy – with a touch of dry glue (unfortunately). Not much heat for 50% ABV, and not as spicy as I was expecting for a 12 year old straight whisky. With water, the sweet notes are accentuated (with maybe a bit of honey), and I’m getting some light fresh berries.

Palate:  Delicate on initial approach, with light vanilla and caramel notes. Citrus is still there, but not a lot of fruit. Getting some rye-like spices now, especially cloves. Woody notes are quite strong, with tons of menthol and eucalyptus on the way out. Also some anise. Light mouthfeel for 50% ABV, with just a bit of tongue tingle. Easy to sip neat. Water brings up the rye-like spices (adds cinnamon), and imparts a creamier sensation. I recommend adding a few drops.

Finish: Medium short, buttery finish – with a strong baked goods sensation (shortbread cookies come to mind). A bit of bitterness initially, and some astringency builds over time (but not unpleasant).

This is interesting, as it is something quite different from most other Canadian or American whiskies.  Reminds me of some of the pure grain whiskies, like Nikka Coffey Grain or Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, or Century Reserve 21 yo here in Canada.  A bit less character than the Nikka, but also fewer off notes.  I suspect most would find this an interesting oddity, but it’s not really an everyday sipper. I do recommend you add a little water – but go easy, as the delicate flavours can be easily drowned out.

Most reviewers give this a pretty middle-of-the-road review, including Davin of Whisky Advocate, Andre of Quebec Whisky, Jim Murray, Chip the Rum Howler and Jake of Whiskey Reviewer. The most positive I’ve seen is Patrick of Quebec Whisky. The least positive reviews I’ve seen come of Martin of Quebec Whisky and Jason of In Search of Elegance. I would say I fall into this latter camp as well – it is not offensive, but not something I would go out of my way to try again.

Powers 12 Year Old John’s Lane

Following on my review of the Powers Signature Release, I have also gotten to try their top-of-the-line expression, Powers John’s Lane. This single pot still whisky bears a 12 year old age statement.

This whisky is named after the original distillery where Powers used to be made. John’s Lane Distillery was shuttered during the massive distillery consolidation in Ireland in the 1970s. The Powers name is currently owned and produced by Midleton, which makes all the well-known single pot still Irish whiskies (such as Redbreast, Green Spot, etc.).

As previously mentioned in my Powers Signature review, the whiskies that go into the Powers line are reported to be aged mainly in refill American oak bourbon casks. However, the John’s Lane release uses a mix of first- and second-fill ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks, and even includes a small amount of Iberian oak in that latter category. This mix is supposed to reflect an earlier style of production and maturation at the original Powers distillery.

Bottled at 46% ABV, this expression is not available in Ontario (sadly). A 50 mL bottle was included in a sampler pack of higher-quality Midleton single pot still whiskies that a friend brought back from Ireland for me.  A typical world-wide price for a full bottle would be ~$85 CAD.

Here’s how it compares to other Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.36 ± 0.25 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 12yo: 8.50 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.08 ± 0.21 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.30 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.81 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.63 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Signature Release: 8.22 ± 0.53 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength 9.07 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Yellow Spot 8.78 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, it gets a very good score for its price range – slightly higher than Redbreast 12/15 and Yellow Spot, and on par with the more expensive Midleton Very Rare.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: A touch darker than Powers Signature Release, with a bit more golden caramel.

Nose: Caramel and vanilla up front. Pear, plum and apple notes dominate for fruit, but slightly candied. Not really getting much of a sherry fruit influence, except for some golden raisins. Floral, with an herbal quality. Also earthy, with tobacco and spice (pepper in particular) and some anise. No off-notes to speak of, which is impressive for this price point. While the core notes are similar to Signature Release, John’s Lane seems a lot more open and welcoming, very fragrant.

Palate: Rich up-front, with vanilla and butterscotch. Honey and pancake syrup. Not overly fruity, but the same ones from the nose are present, along with some banana and citrus (grapefruit) added to the mix. Milk chocolate and coffee show up. Baking spices, with nutmeg and cinnamon, plus some pepper and anise. Remains very earthy, with pleasant leather notes. Very creamy mouth feel. Bit of tongue tingle – not too much (better than Signature Release). Also has some slight bitterness coming in at the end, but again not bad.

Finish: Medium length. Light sweetness lingers, with that candied fruit again. Milk chocolate and some mild spice persists as well. Very nice and easily sippable.

Powers.12.Johns.LaneWith water, you get an even more candied nose. The palate gets sweeter too, and less creamy. Personally, I think it is better neat without any water – you don’t need to play up the sweetness any further. It dilutes fast too, so I suggest you go sparingly on water if you do try it.

Although I compared Signature Release to Redbreast 12 yo, this Powers John’s Lane actually reminds me more of Midleton Very Rare – but more spicy/earthy in this case.  It is also reminiscent in some ways to the lighter higher-end Canadian whiskies (e.g., Gibson’s 18‎ or Crown Royal Monarch). For the typical price internationally, Powers John’s Lane is a great buy and a worthy step up from Signature Release in my view. I would happily pick it up at the going rate.

While generally positive, reviewer opinions are more varied than typical on this one. The most positive reviews I’ve seen come from Dominic of Whisky Advocate, Michael of Diving for Pearls, and Josh the Whiskey Jug – who all loved it, giving it top scores. Also very positive are Serge of Whisky Fun and Thomas of Whisky Saga. Ralfy and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer give it more modest scores. My Annoying Opinions is the only really negative review I’ve seen.

Arran Malt 12 Year Old Cask Strength

The Arran Malt distillery makes a number of very popular single malts in the light flavour class (i.e., supercluster G-H), as well as a large number of wine cask-finished malts.  As discussed in my recent review of their 10 year old expression, while the distillery itself is relatively young, there is a long history and tradition of whisky making on the isle of Arran.

While I found their standard 10 yo expression decent enough, there wasn’t really much for me to recommend it over other entry-level examples of this class.  I almost picked up the 12 year old cask-strength edition last year (on a recommendation from a LCBO employee), but let it pass in favour of a wine-cask finished expression (review to come soon). Fortunately, I had the chance to try this 12 yo malt recently in a restaurant in Norway.

Note that there have been a number of different batches of the Arran 12 Year Old Cask Strength over the last few years. I know the LCBO version was 54.0% ABV, but I’ve seen other strengths reported online for the earlier batches.  The bottle I sampled from appears to have been from the same stock as the LCBO (i.e., 54%).

Let’s see how the relevant Arran Malts do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to the competition for similar price, flavour and strength camps:

Arran Malt Lochranza Reserve: 7.93 ± 0.67 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns: 8.29 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt 10yo: 8.50 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 12yo Cask Strength: 8.65 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 14yo: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
AnCnoc 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo: 8.41 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach Cask Strength: 8.86 ± 0.10 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach 10yo Cask Strength (100 proof): 9.05 ± 0.13 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Glenkinchie 12yo: 8.25 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Tomatin Cask Strength: 8.35 ± 0.48 on 9 reviews ($$$$)

And now let’s see what I find in the glass for this 12 yo cask strength sample:

Nose: Very sweet up front, with honey, simple sugar, and maybe even a little light brown sugar. Apple juice, with a wide range of lighter fruits peaking though – including apple, pear, peaches and plums. A bit of anise. Spicy, in the direction of cloves and all spice. Grassy character. Vanilla.  No off notes. Very nice, and a great improvement over the 10 yo.

Palate: Pears and green apple are the dominant fruit notes (and apple juice again). Butterscotch comes on strong now, and adds to the vanilla. Marshmallows. Texture is thick and creamy, giving it a great mouthfeel. Surprisingly easy to drink, and not very hot, despite the 54% ABV. With a little water, there isn’t much change in flavour, but it gains a slightly grainier texture (i.e., less malty, more raw barley). There’s is also a eucalyptus note now and graham crackers. With even more water, pepper and the spices pick up – but the other flavours dull.

Arran12Finish‎: Medium. Longer than the 10 yo, but it would be nice if it were even longer here. Some slight astringent bitterness, but mild. Water may increase this bitterness though, and bring in some artificial sweetener notes, so go easy on it. Frankly the finish (while decent) is the weakest part of this expression.

Wow, this was a pleasant surprise. Personally, I would put this on par with Dalwhinnie 15 as among the best of the light G-H flavour supercluster. Certainly far surpasses the Arran Malt 10 yo, or AnCnoc 12 yo. I regret not picking a bottle up when it was available at the LCBO.

Among reviewers, Josh the Whiskey Jug is a fan, as are Andre, Martin and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. Ralfy and and Gavin of Whisky Advocate gives it a more moderate score. The only truly negative score I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray.

Aberlour 12 Year Old – Double Cask Matured

While not necessarily a house-hold name, Aberlour is widely perceived among scotch enthusiasts as a consistently good choice – and one of the best value plays among highland/speyside single malts. Indeed, I have sometimes seen Aberlour referred to as the poor man’s Macallan, due to the similar composition and flavour profile for many of their expressions.

The double cask matured version of the Aberlour 12 year old is made from a mix of traditional oak and sherry casks, and is bottled at the standard 40% ABV. It retails for $65 CAD at LCBO, making it one of the most affordable single malts available here.  Note that there is a separate non-chillfiltered (NCF) version of the 12yo, but that is not available in Ontario.

The Aberlour 12yo Double Cask has recently garnered a fair bit of publicity in Canada, as it was recently selected by the Speaker of the House of Commons as his “selection scotch” for use at official functions. Many in the Canadian whisky community complained that a scotch whisky was selected over a Canadian whisky for this official role.

Here is what the Meta-Critic database has to say for this whisky, relative to others of similar style.

Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured: 8.38 ± 0.15 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Aberlour 12yo Non-Chill-Filtered: 8.80 ± 0.24 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan Three Wood: 8.26 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 12yo Doublewood: 8.45 ± 0.34 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 12yo Matured in Sherry Wood: 8.68 ± 0.23 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain 12yo: 8.57 ± 0.31 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.45 ± 0.27 on 16 reviews ($$$)
GlenDronach 12yo Original: 8.58 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Glenfarclas 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Glenkinchie Distiller’s Edition: 8.38 ± 0.30 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Glenmorangie Lasanta: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 12yo Fine Oak: 8.47 ± 0.40 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Although towards the lower end of the range of average Meta-Critic scores, it is also the cheapest of all the above whiskies – and so does seem to represent good value for money.

I was given a bottle of this malt for Father’s Day recently, so I thought I would share my tasting experiences here.

Nose: Sweet pear apple (red delicious) and lighter sherry fruits, like plums and maybe a touch of raisins. Has a mouthwatering “juicy fruit” aroma. Light body otherwise, and not as malty as I expected (more cake-like, if anything). Very slight nose hair burning sensation if you inhale too deeply.

Palate: Same fruits as the nose, but they seem a bit diluted here. A faint touch of spice coming in now (mainly cloves). Still getting the cake and fruit sensation throughout. Light body overall, with a somewhat watery mouthfeel. Would probably have benefited by a higher ABV, as there isn’t all that much going on at this low proof. A touch of bitterness creeps in at the very end. Certainly on the delicate side for sherry matured.

Finish: Medium length. Not overly sweet – reminds me of exhausted juicy fruit gum once the sweetness has given out (and you are left with just the subtle, spent fruitiness). A touch of cloves persists to the end.

Aberlour.12.DoubleThe Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured reminds me a bit of Auchentoshan Three Wood or the BenRiach 12yo Matured in Sherry Wood – in all these cases, there is a fairly gentle underlying base spirit. If anything, I suspect the Aberlour 12 spent less time in sherry casks than the others, but it is still a good introduction to the Aberlour house style.  A good place to start, and something of the opposite extreme from the “sherry bomb” A’bunadh.

Reviews of this whisky are very consistent, as indicated by the low standard deviation above.  Probably the most positive review I’ve seen is from Serge of Whisky Fun, and the least positive from Michael of Diving for Pearls. Otherwise, you can check out Whisky Advocate, the guys at Quebec Whisky, or Richard at the Whiskey Reviewer for typical rankings.

Redbreast 12 Year Old

Redbreast gets a lot of attention from whisky enthusiasts – especially those who typically specialize in single malts.  It is an example of the Irish pure pot still style (aka single pot still), which is the traditional method for Irish whisky production.

This process involves a mix of malted and unmalted barley that has been combined and triple-distilled in a large, single copper pot stills. This method introduces a distinctive “greasiness” in the mouthfeel of the whisky, while still maintaining a lot of classic malt whisky flavours.

You may not have noticed this before in Irish whiskies, since most are actually blends of single pot still whisky and lighter grain whisky (e.g. Jameson’s, Powers, etc.). In this sense, a single pot still whisky (like Redbreast 12 Year Old) is closer to a classic single malt, while the more common entry-level Irish whiskies are closer to scotch blends.

Indeed, many enthusiasts are comfortable describing the flavour of pure pot still whiskies in the same terms as single malts (in this case, cluster E on my flavour map). That would place it in the same category as a number of the traditional vatted speyside/highland single malts that have some proportion of wine cask-aged whiskies in their mix.

Produced by Middleton, Redbreast 12 year old is a very affordable whisky – by comparable quality single malt standards. It currently sells for $75 CAD for a 750mL bottle at the LCBO. While bottled at the standard 40% ABV, there is a cask-strength version of the 12yo (57.4%) that you can pick up here for $110.

Here is how it compares to a number of whiskies of similar flavour and price in my Meta-Critic Database:

Aberfeldy 12yo: 8.16 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.29 ± 0.25 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 12yo Doublewood: 8.45 ± 0.34 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 12yo Single Barrel: 8.61 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.45 ± 0.26 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.04 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak: 8.59 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Monkey Shoulder: 8.27 ± 0.38 on 15 reviews ($$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.78 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.05 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.71 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.38 ± 0.30 on 6 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew 10yo Single Malt: 8.00 ± 0.79 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.48 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$)

Again, for the price and flavour cluster, you can see the Redbreast 12yo does very well. Indeed, it is the Meta-Critic score leader for this cluster in the <$75 group ($$$).

Here is what I find in the glass for the standard 12 yo Redbreast:

Nose: Nutty and slightly malty (the latter fades with a bit of time in the glass). Spicy, with pepper and a bit of black licorice (anise). While not overly sherried, I suspect some proportion of this whisky spent time in a sherry cask – I get hints of light berries and milk chocolate raisonettes. A touch of solvent smell, but I can’t place it.

Palate: Rich up-front hit of brown sugar, vanilla and honey. Slightly flat cola too. Light fruits again, with tart citrus kicking in now. Very oily and juicy, giving it a chewy mouthfeel that is quite distinctive. Much more substantial than most Irish whiskies I’ve tried. Just a touch of bitterness comes in at the end, which some may find harsh if used to the lighter Irish whiskies.

Finish: Moderately long, with persistent spice – and that cola effect is back.  Not a lot of variety, just a consistent fade out. The bitterness persists as well, encouraging you to take another sip. Not particularly complex, but longer lasting than most Irish whiskies.

Redbreast.12The Redbreast 12 yo is a solid performer, with more substantial character than most commonly available Irish whiskies.  But it still carries through the typical Irish sweetness, just mixed with a single malt-like balance of flavours. This makes Redbreast 12 yo somewhat unique in my experience – sort of a hybrid of a typical Irish whisky and a sherry cask-matured speyside single malt.

Ideally, I think it best suited for those wanting to take their Irish whisky experience up to the next level. Or those who find some of the stronger sherry-finished highland/speysides to be a bit much (i.e., think of it as a sweeter Glendronach 12 yo). Indeed, I would personally rate it much closer to the Glendronach 12 yo (which gets a Meta-Critic score of 8.58 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews). But that still makes Redbreast 12yo a great value.

For a range of opinions on this whisky, the lowest scores I’ve seen come from André and Patrick at Quebec Whisky and Ralfy. Most seem to be of comparable opinion to Serge of Whisky Fun or Jim Murray. The highest scores I’ve seen come from John Hansel of Whisky Advocate and Michael of Diving for Pearls.

Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old

Bunnahabhain is a Scottish distillery that lies on the north-eastern tip of Islay, just north of Caol Ila. And like its nearest neighbor, most of its expressions are a lot milder than what you would typically associate with Islay (i.e., not smokey or peaty).

The reason for this is that Bunnahabhain apparently doesn’t use peated malt for its core line. At least, that is what is commonly reported online. The distillery website actually drops phrases like “lightly peated” or “minimal peating” occasionally, which is a definitely ambiguous. But most would agree that there is no real peated malt in the core age-statement line. That said, in more recent years, they have started making some heavily peated “Bunnys”, like Ceòbanach and Toiteach.

Here is how Bunna 12 yo fares relative to other unpeated 12 yo single malts:

Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured: 8.37 ± 0.17 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 12yo Doublewood: 8.45 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 12yo Matured in Sherry Wood: 8.72 ± 0.23 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain 12yo: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.11 ± 0.49 on 17 reviews ($$$)
GlenDronach 12yo Original: 8.60 ± 0.24 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Glenfarclas 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.07 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.03 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Glengoyne 12yo: 8.52 ± 0.44 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.80 ± 0.44 on 19 reviews ($$$)

The Bunna 12 yo is sort of middle-of-the-pack here, if you don’t count the ubiquitous entry-level Glenfiddich/Glenlivet malts (which are lighter tasting and rank lower).  Thanks to redditor xile_ for the sample tasted here.

I don’t normally discuss colour (since this can be manipulated), but the Bunnahabhain 12 yo has no colour added and is not chill-filtered (hurrah!). It has a rich pancake syrup colour, indicating a certain amount of sherry cask influence in the mix. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with definite sherry overtones – milk chocolate, raisins and prunes most especially. Overall, very light-bodied though (i.e., this is no sherry bomb). Honey and apple are also prominent. Something vaguely coastal or woody, but no real peat or smoke. Also no nose tingle, or any false notes. Bodes well for what is to come.

Palate: Highland Park-like initially, with sherry sweetness upfront followed by an underlying bitterness underneath (tree bark? coffee?). I normally associate this sort of bitter note with smokey whiskies, but I am not really getting any smoke here. A bit of honey and vanilla. Slightly nutty. Has a relatively light taste and mouthfeel overall, despite the 46.3% ABV. However, a touch of water might help with the underlying bitter note. Decent enough, but not very complex, and nothing to really distinguish it from the competition.

Finish: Some bitter chocolate on the way out, like an unsweetened cafe mocha. The balance is more toward bitter over the sweet (i.e., wood and some dry sherry). Slightly astringent, making you want to sip again.

Bunnahabhain.12Certainly a reasonable and tasty enough dram, but nothing that really stands out for me. It does have more of the dry sherry influence than you get in a typical Highland/Speyside whisky of this age, but none of the smoke/peat of the typical Islays. As such, I find it odd that there is so much bitterness throughout here.

I find the overall Meta-Critic score for the Bunna 12 yo to be reasonable. I would recommend something like the GlenDronach 12 yo for a more full-flavour whisky, or the Redbreast 12yo for higher quality in the same E flavour cluster. The BenRiach 12 yo Matured in Sherry Wood would be a better choice if you want a more sherried (but still delicate) whisky.

Reviewers are reasonably consistent in their view of this whisky. Probably the most favourable one I’ve seen is from Ralfy. One of the lest favourable would be Nathan the Scotch Noob. Oliver of Dramming, Serge of Whisky Fun and Thomas of Whisky Saga all give it fairly typical reviews.

Glenlivet 12 Year Old vs Founder’s Reserve

Like for many, the Glenlivet 12 yo was the first single malt Scotch that I would routinely order in a bar, neat. It was a considerable step up from the basic whisky blends I had tried (both domestic and international), and had a relatively gentle and inoffensive flavour profile.

I don’t mean that to sound belittling. When first exploring the world of whiskies, it is easy to get overwhelmed by strong flavours. Indeed, my first experience of malt whisky put me off it for years – a heavily peated malt, I recall remarking that it tasted like peat moss in vodka (as that was all I could discern at the time). The Glenlivet 12 yo was a revelation in comparison, and gave me an opportunity to appreciate the subtler flavours in malt whisky.

Of course, most of us eventually move on from this relatively inexpensive and ubiquitous single malt, searching for wider flavour experience.  But it remains a staple for its class, and one worth considering here – especially in comparison to the new Founder’s Reserve, a slightly cheaper new no-age-statement (NAS) from Glenlivet.

Founder’s Reserve immediately replaced the 12 yo as the sole entry-level Glenlivet expression in some smaller and emerging markets.  In more established markets (including North America), the two expressions are available side-by-side. That seems to be changing however, and the expectation is that the Founder’s Reserve will replace the 12 yo in most markets eventually.

As an aside, that name has received a fair amount of ridicule online – it is hard to imagine how the most entry-level whisky in a producer’s inventory could be described as a “Founder’s Reserve”. 😉

Fortunately, both the Founder’s Reserve and the original 12 yo are still available in Canada (for the time being). So I was able to try them both in short succession one recent evening.

Glenlivet.12Let’s see how they compare on in the Meta-Critic database, relative to other popular entry-level malt whiskies (age and non-age expressions).

Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.49 ± 0.94 on 6 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.31 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu Amber Rock: 8.28 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.12 ± 0.50 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Deanston 12yo: 8.05 ± 0.48 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Deanston Virgin Oak: 8.21 ± 0.49 on 9 reviews ($$)
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.30 ± 0.43 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.08 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.03 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve: 7.95 ± 0.50 on 10 reviews ($$)
Tomatin Legacy: 8.25 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($$)
Tomatin 12yo: 7.82 ± 0.66 on 14 reviews ($$)

As you can see from the Meta-Critic average, they get roughly equivalent scores overall (and about middle of the pack for this entry-level group). But what you can’t tell from above is the repeated measure of individual reviewers who have tried both. There are only six reviewers that I track that have scored both whiskies, and the difference is interesting: three rank the Founder’s Reserve considerably higher than the 12 yo, two find it equivalent, and one finds it worse. Not quite what I expected for a lower price NAS.

Here is what I find in the glass for each:

Glenlivet 12 yo

Nose: Slightly sweet, with a touch of honey, and light fruits like apple and pineapple (a distinctive Glenlivet trait). Definite vanilla. Slightly floral, but I can’t identify anything specific. Slight solvent note, but not offensive.

Palate: Sweet up front, with the vanilla turning more to caramel now. The apple remains prominent, but also getting some citrus – with a touch of bitterness. Remains light and relatively sweet overall, and not very complex. Somewhat watery mouthfeel.

Finish:  Moderate finish – a bit longer than I would have expected from its light taste, but still relatively short overall.  That sweet apple remains the key note, although a bit of bitterness also lingers. As I remember it – a light and inoffensive whisky.

Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

Glenlivet.Founders.ReserveNose: My core notes read the same – slightly sweet, light fruits like apple, slightly floral. But there is more going on here, with a malty characteristic now. There is an almost maritime air, with hints of salty chocolate (i.e., seems like it could be just a tiny touch sherried). Definitely a more complex nose than the 12 yo. Unfortunately, the solvent characteristic is also more noticeable (a touch of glue in particular).

Palate: Still sweet and fruity, and I find some maltiness is coming up now as well. Classic apple and honey are still there, but with faint chocolate notes, and something slightly spicy (pepper?). Still light and watery overall. Improves on multiple sips.

Finish:  As before, medium length for its class (short overall for a Scotch). The various new notes (like chocolate) linger, as does a bit of caramel sweetness. Less fruity than the old 12 yo.

The Verdict: The Founder’s Reserve is both more and less than the 12 yo. It lacks the simple charm and elegance of light fruit-driven 12 yo, and brings in more complexity (likely from wider barrel blending). With that wider mix comes some additional off notes though, so it really is a mixed bag.

For its extra complexity, I would give Founder’s Reserve a marginally higher score. But I can really understand why individual reviewers vary so much in their relative opinions of these two. It thus makes sense how the overall average scores came out pretty much the same, but with a larger standard deviation for the Founder’s Reserve.

For direct comparison reviews of both the 12yo and Founder’s Reserve, I recommend the boys at QuebecWhisky (12 yo, FR), Oliver of Dramming (12 yo, FR), and Richard of WhiskeyReviewer (12 yo, FR).

Caol Ila 12 Year Old

Caol Ila is a high-capacity malt distillery, from the Islay island of Scotland. As you would expect for the region, most of its production features the use of peated barley (although it does make some unpeated whisky as well).

Caol Ila (typically pronounced “Cool-EEL-ah” or “Coo-LEE-la”) has a long history, and is currently owned and operated by whisky conglomerate Diageo. Most of the distillery’s production is therefore directed toward the high-volume Diageo blends, where it serves as the “smokey” backbone of the flagship Johnnie Walker Black and various Bell’s blends. Fortunately for us, Diageo now also allows direct bottlings of Caol Ila single malts.

Interestingly, most enthusiasts seem to consider Caol Ila’s malts to be “lightly” peated.  Indeed, most of the Caol Ila single malts can be found in flavour cluster I – which are less intensely smokey/peaty than cluster J (where you will find most of the Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin expressions).  This is interesting, as Caol Ila actually uses a comparable level of peat to Lagavulin (i.e., typically 35ppm). Presumably, there are other aspects to whisky production at Caol Ila that attenuate the effect of peat on final whisky flavour. See my Source of Whisky’s Flavour for more background information.

Long story short, it may be more accurate to say that Caol Ila single malts are typically less extremely peaty/smokey flavoured than those of other distilleries on the island.

Here are the Meta-Critic scores for similar single malt expressions (i.e., mainly from flavour cluster I), at comparable price points:

Bowmore 12yo: 8.41 ± 0.25 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore Small Batch: 8.45 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.74 ± 0.19 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition: 8.74 ± 0.40 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.53 ± 0.29 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo: 8.68 ± 0.23 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park Dark Origins: 8.50 ± 0.53 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Oban Little Bay: 8.51 ± 0.33 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.43 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Old Pulteney 12yo: 8.44 ± 0.30 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Old Pulteney Navigator: 8.42 ± 0.31 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.92 ± 0.22 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker Dark Storm: 8.78 ± 0.13 on 8 reviews ($$$)

Caol Ila is definitely well received by reviewers for this class. My review sample of the Caol Ila 12yo comes from Reddit user wuhantang.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very peaty nose, in a moistened earth way (i.e., a peat bog). There is some smoke as well, but it seems restrained relative to the peat (although I can definitely detect the subtle smokey note of JW Black here). There is a Lagavulin-like quality to the peat that I quite like (i.e., it is “sweeter” and less iodine-rich than the typical Laphroaig/Ardbegs to me). That sweetness is hard to place (maybe baking bread?). There is definitely something salty here too, which helps produce a mouth-watering effect. Also slightly bitter (lemon zest?) with some grassiness rounding out the overall bouquet nicely. Quite complex and fragrant for flavour cluster I.

Palate: An oily texture, with a nicely balanced mix of peat, ash and smoke. Definitely not as overwhelming as the flavour cluster J malts (i.e., I can see where the “lightly smokey” moniker comes from).  Still sweet, but with the baking bread from the nose turning into moist vanilla cake in the mouth. There’s a bit of nuttiness now as well.  Not overly complex, but pleasant and easy going (even if you are not a big peat/smoke-fan). I am surprised to see that it is actually bottled 43% ABV, as it tastes as smooth to me as most 40% whiskies.

Caol.Ila.12Finish: Moderately long. Like many peated whiskies, the smoke is the longest-lasting characteristic, but it is balanced by a persistent sweetness. I wasn’t getting much in the way of fruits on the nose or palate, but there does seem to be a light fruit vibe on the way out (maybe pear?).

I am not typically a fan of heavily peat-flavoured whiskies – but I quite like the Caol Ila 12yo. The nose in particular is very pleasant, with a lot going on. It is nice on the palate and in the finish as well, but somewhat less interesting here. That said, there are no false notes.

I don’t know if I would recommend this as an introduction for newcomers to whisky, but it is certainly a good choice for those who like a little smoke, or want to dip a toe into the peaty/smokey realm.

Despite being an entry-level single malt, most reviewers rank this whisky as slightly above average overall (which I would agree with).  Representative reviews are the most recent sample by Serge of Whisky Fun, Dave Broom of Whisky Advocate, and the guys at Quebec Whisky.  Even the reviewers who score this whisky a little lower tend to be very positive in their comments – see for example Ruben of Whisky Notes or Ralfy. Ralfy also recommends this as a single malt for beginners to try.

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